Archive for December 17th, 2007

Do Your Duty

Can social duties contribute to one’s well-being?

The notion seems counterintuitive. Duties, after all, suggest obligations — having to do something not because you want to, but because you have to do it.

But research seems to point in a different direction. It suggests social duties do contribute to our happiness, especially as we get older. The key is autonomy — having the ability to choose to participate in social duties as opposed to being told to participate in them.

Take voting, for example.

As we age, we tend to want to participate more vigorously in the political process. Perhaps we have a greater appreciation for social institutions, or we are more likely to wrestle with moral and spiritual questions. Or perhaps it results from just taking more responsibility for our own actions. Whatever the reason, the research seems to say that this autonomous act of fulfilling our social responsibilities adds to our overall satisfaction and happiness.

In short, get involved. Fulfilling one’s social responsibilities can reward even the most die-hard political cynic.

Source: Doing One’s Duty: Chronological Age, Felt Autonomy, and Subjective Well-Being by Kennon M. Sheldon, Tim Kassar, Linda Houser-Marko, Taisha Jones, and Daniel Turban

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When it comes to friends and happiness, quality matters.

People have known this for centuries. One good friend means more to us than 20 acquaintances. But now recent studies appear to back up this common knowledge, and the results could have significant implications to recent trends in online social networking.

Researchers Meliksah Demir and Lesley Weitekamp wanted to explore the interrelationships between personality, friendship and happiness. Specifically, they wanted to know whether friendship contributed to happiness if personality stayed out of the picture. After surveying more than 400 young adults, they concluded that happiness accounted for nearly 60 percent of the variance in happiness. The authors of the study suggest that even though one could be predisposed to being happy, having a friendship that is high in quality “still adds something extra to our lives and has the potential to increase one’s happiness level.” The researchers also suggest that friendship is important regardless of a person’s personality.

What were the two most important characteristics of friendship that seem to predict happiness? Companionship and self-validation. In other words, in the U.S. we want our friends to be with us. We also want them to help us maintain our self-image by being reassuring and encouraging.

Source: I Am So Happy ‘Cause Today I Found My Friend: Friendship and Personality as Predictors of Happiness by Meliksah Demir and Lesley A. Weitekamp

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Psychological studies have consistently linked materialism or financial aspirations with unhappy and unsatisfied lives.

But recent research shows a more complex picture.

For example, one study found that the financial aspirations of those more highly educated leaned towards higher happiness levels compared to people with low educational levels. At the same time, people with high materialism and strong religious beliefs had lower subjective well-being levels compared to people with higher financial aspirations but a lower religious commitment.

Adding to the complexity — research suggests that while financial aspirations do pull life satisfaction down, household income tends to pull it up. That begs the question — how do most people achieve higher household incomes? Through financial aspirations, of course.

A classic Catch-22.

Aspiring to financial success won’t contribute to your happiness, but a higher income will. No wonder improving happiness through money often feels like a land mine.

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